Crossing ‘the Line’

Sometimes it is directed at the players and sometimes it is directed at the officials but one common problem to figure out is how officials should deal with the obnoxious fan that never stops yelling, screaming and interfering with the game.

Most of the time it is part of the game but there comes a time when it crosses the line.  At the higher competitive and pro levels, where there is security or police presence, it is not as much of an issue as it is at the lower levels and the recreational league games.

Pat Ferre
D7 Youth Referee Admin.

The line between being part of the game and causing enough of a problem will depend on the level of the game, the expectations of the spectators and the location.   A recreational versus professional game, a fan in the middle of a packed stadium versus an individual on the sidelines with a handful of spectators and a game in a local park versus one in a giant stadium all have their limitations and expectations.  As a result it is hard to come up with some standards of behavior and solutions that fit all situations.

The Laws of soccer discuss unsporting behavior as it applies to players, coaches and other officials but do not mention spectators.  Law 5 gives The Referee the power to stop, suspend or terminate a match due to outside interference or other problem in the spectator area.

Although the officials should use discretion and caution when spectators interfere with a game, they are allowed to hold the coach of the team responsible for the behavior of the sidelines.  Even when a coach is unwilling or unable to control the irresponsible behavior of a fan, the Laws do not give officials the power to throw out a fan or penalize a team due to spectator interference.

Dealing with spectators requires officials to use their best judgment and people skills.  It is never a good idea to argue or get involved with spectators, most officials understand that.

Before going to an administrator or a coach because of interference by a fan, an official should first make sure that the spectator was really interfering and it is not because that official has “rabbit ears”.   Always let the administrator or coach take care of dealing with and if need be removing the fan.

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